In one of my classes an assistant professor from a basic science department at VT came to talk about his experiences as being a young faculty member. I found his talk really interesting and there were some things that I wanted to share.
We had a discussion about how the University is trying to give some steps in changing the curriculum. For example they are trying to let the students make more decisions regarding on how to do their study plan. Some faculty members and administrators are arguing (and I agree) that students should try to get some minors in things completely opposite to their main major. For example, some students majoring in engineering are minoring in music. By doing so they are able to understand complex problems differently, they are more creative, and they are more sensible to accept and understand people from different backgrounds. In the business world that may translate in improving teamwork, communication, and leadership skills (desired in most fields).
He mentioned that based on that premise, and a motivation book he was reading (Drive by Daniel Pink), he decided to test his students with the theory that people doing things that they love may be able to learn more. His project was to let students (in teams) to do whatever they feel passionate for, and grade themselves on it. The grade was I believe 20% of the course grade and he let them get away with whatever grade they decide. His first shocking moment about the project was that the day teams were presenting their projects what most of the teams did was a literature review on a topic related to the class and a power point presentation about it. The second impacting moment was that students were grading themselves on grades that were lower to what he was expecting (a lot of students on the B range).
He was very frustrated with the first impressions of the project because realized that we may be affecting our students in our current system, even when we let them do what they want, they will find a way to do whatever they think may satisfy the instructors. In addition, he felt students undervalued their own work and didn’t have confidence in what they did.
The following semester, he had to obligate them to do something they were passionate about and not related to the class or the program. He found out that most students didn’t have a passion. Most of them were focused 100% in their classes. After he was able to finally get some students doing a lot of random different project he was able to formally assess the effectiveness of the project and demonstrate that the project helped students develop the desired learning outcomes.
In conclusion, I think it is very important to learn things outside our own fields, I also think that informal learning and out of the classroom experiences are extremely important to students in their professional formation. I applaud the idea of letting students create their own curriculum, I wish all my engineering students were taken more art classes. And I look forward to implement a similar project in one of my classes.
If you want to learn more about Daniel Pink this is a link to his Tedtalk